Finding the “Park” in Parkway

taconic4At 104.12 miles (167.56 km), the Taconic State Parkway (aka Taconic or TSP) is the longest parkway in New York State, winding through four counties (Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Columbia) to connect the hamlets of Valhalla and Old Chatham.

Proposed in 1925 by then chair of the Taconic State Park Commission (TSPC) Franklin D. Roosevelt as a road providing New York City residents access to existing and planned state parks in the eastern Hudson Valley, the scenic Taconic was finally completed 38 years later. (In an interesting intertwining of history, the opening ceremony celebrating the completion, planned for November 25, 1963, would be canceled due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy three days earlier.)

Nowadays, the Taconic serves as a busy thoroughfare for motorists between upstate New York (en route to northern New England) and New York City. Yet, in reference to its original mission, the Tacontic passes by more than 30 town, county and state parks, preserves and conservation areas along the way. (Scroll to the bottom for a list of other notable parks with external links.)

The presence of the latter, as I found out the hard way, is a lifesaver for travelers stuck in a pinch; the majority of rest areas having been demolished in the past decades due to cost-reduction exercises. And so, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, nature’s calling led me to Lake Taghkanic State Park.

Just a slight turn off the Taconic in Columbia County, the 1,568 acre (643.5 hm² ) park not only offers public facilities, but also, I discovered, harbors a pristine lake surrounded by flora and fauna.

taconic3Drawn by the serenity, I decide to venture down to the lakeside where, soaking up the calm surroundings, a sudden hammering noise caught my attention. Slightly irate at what I automatically thought a human intrusion, I looked up to see a woodpecker busy at work.

Minutes passed as I stood there, utterly fascinated, a silent observer to this normal yet all so foreign sight. This was my first encounter with the creature outside a textbook.

Then without warning, the woodpecker took flight, landing on a nearby tree and and disappearing into a hole. I followed, standing close enough to hear what sounded like a nestful of little mouths clicking and clacking. Near a minute later, the woodpecker peered out, looked around and flew away.

taconicI yearned for more.  Almost instinctively, I kept my place and waited patiently for the scene to repeat itself. Once, twice, again and again.

taconic8 Dragging myself slowly back to the car nearly an hour later, I came across another curious and intriguing sight — walnut shells securely fasten within the bark of a tree. My brain was still pondering which animal, or natural phenomenon, had done this as I exited the park and headed back onto the Taconic.

taconic5It was much, much later that it dawned upon me the true beauty of the Taconic in fulfilling Roosevelt’s vision of bringing people closer to nature.

And so, if you happen to be on the Taconic sometime soon, I highly recommend a stop at one (or more) of the many parks. Below is a list of some of the more notable ones.

Columbia County

Beebe Hill State Forest

High Falls Conservation Area

Lake Taghkanic State Park

New Forge State Forest

Ooms Conservation Area

Schor Conservation Area

Dutchess County

James Baird State Park

Lafayetteville Multiple Use Area

Stissing Mountain Multiple Use Area

Taconic-Hereford Multiple Use Area

Roeliff Jansen Kill State Multiple Use Area

Putnam County

California Hill State Forest

Fahnestock State Park

Westchester County

Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park

Turkey Mountain Nature Preserve

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

Teatown Lake Reservation

Teatown-Kitchawan Trail

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